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Learning songs on my banjo: Bay Rum Blues

Posted by jrjenks on Friday, November 13, 2009

Now, some people say Bay Rum's a good tonic / My buddy says it's good for your stomach

Hello, J.R.

Hello, imaginary interviewer. I like your hair.

Thank you. What banjo song are you learning right now?

Bay Rum Blues.

Why are you learning Bay Rum Blues?

This is one of the songs that I'll be playing as part of the Brass Note Jug Band on Saturday 11/14/2009 at Chicago's Second Annual Battle of the Jug Bands. Our instrumentation will be:

  • Arlo - guitar
  • Jacob - washboard
  • Jim J. - harmonica, voice
  • Jim S. - mandolin
  • J.R. - banjo

What recordings do you have of Bay Rum Blues?

  1. Joe Filisko & Eric Noden recorded it on their 2006 album Live right here in Chicago. They played it at 89 BPM in the key of Bb.
  2. I also found a 2008 performance by James Conway on YouTube, played at 98 BPM in the key of C. He drifts from Bay Rum Blues into Sweet Georgie Brown and back.

What tab arrangements do you have?

None, so my instructor David and I (mostly David) worked up some simple rolls. You can see them in week 55 of my Banjo versus TV project.

What's your target performance speed?

89 BPM, since the rest of the band is practicing along with the Filisko/Noden recording. If I follow the practice-at-20%-faster rule that means I'll need to get my practice speed up to 118 BPM.

In what key and what tuning?

Jim J. wants to sing it in A. I described in week 86 how I used Audacity to change the pitch of the Filisko/Noden version to our desired key so I could practice.

For tuning the first four strings I'm going start with standard tuning and then capo at 2. For the fifth string I'm going to tune it down from G4 to E4. So I guess you'd call my tuning e'eac#'e'.

David had originally suggested that I capo the fifth string at 7 as usual for a song in A, but my fingers had trouble hitting the fourth string instead of the fifth strings on those rolls. Tuning it down to E4 meant that I sounded good even if I included the fifth string in a roll.

Which lyrics are you learning?

For right now, none, since I'm not singing it. But when the time comes I think I'll combine the ones that James Conway sings on that YouTube video (I like the references to "Roosevelt was wet / Hoover was dry") and the Filisko/Noden ones.

Anything else you'd like to tell me about this song?

The Filisko/Noden lyrics reference the "Rayless chain". Apparently, Rayless Department Store was the place in Gastonia, NC where you could purchase booze. (I think Conway is in error when he says "railin' chain".)

Here's a shot of an old Rayless Department Store in Virgina, South Boston:

Cross-posted at J.R. Jenks' blog

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